Mission “A”

“Steam” for a well-educated German speaking science teacher is an invisible form of water which is around us all of the time but nobody takes notice of. “STEAM” is the same thing in a capital letter headline – any drunk graphic designer may have thought this would be funny like Comic Sans. Just a few people know that STEAM is the smarter cousin of STEM, the acronym for the school subjects Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The new addition of the A in STEAM is for Art.


First, there’s no need for such knowledge in the German school system. Ha ha! School subjects mostly are separated in the same manner as 100 years before. Actually, there’s a synonym to STEM – this is spelled MINT (Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaft, Technik, in English,  math, computer sciences, [natural] sciences, engineering). But, there’s no school subject like MINT at all! Just a few schools (e.g. FASW – Freie Aktive Schule Wülfrath) decided to integrate the classical subjects biology, geography, chemistry, and physics for younger students into one subject called Nawi (short form of “Naturwissenschaften” – natural sciences) and to focus on the connections between all these sciences. Most curricula and gradings insist on the conventional classification. So, even a comprehensive MINT approach is not easy to establish, not to mention something like this plus something further.

Second, typically there are no additional resources available for special activities in a German public school. It’s hard enough for a principal or an eager teacher to initiate and establish a STEM program, so go away with this weird “A”! If the schedule is tight and personal resources are subject to be cut, guess what subjects regularly are first to be reduced? Arts, music, sports and other subjects  are often seen as “nice to have” but not essential. This is not an easy environment for art teachers: they feel bound to honor the fine arts, so they won’t easily support designing e.g. Raspberry Pi enclosures with students for their tech colleagues STEM project instead of analyzing an oil painting by Rembrandt.

Third, schools are the recipients of a MINT overload by politicians, organizations, companies, and lobbyists. Many teachers roll their eyes when the next MINT wave reaches their mailbox. Originally, MINT was an initiative from the mathematician Prof. Gudrun Kalmbach H.E. for supporting talented youth and especially girls in math and science fields. And, funny enough, it’s more than ten years older than the STEM acronym in the US. The initiative spread out to student competitions, and later was grabbed by politicians and representatives of different organizations for their own purposes. So, today every teacher knows the abbreviation MINT – it has become a buzzword. But nobody in the target group of the teachers exactly knows the actual goals of the different MINT programs funders. More or less all of the funders try to get access to talented young boys and girls and to engage them in their programs – the earlier, the better.

Nothing to say against that, but: MINT is just math, computer sciences, natural sciences, and engineering – nothing more! Where’s the “A” here? Where’s a concept for free development of kids which isn’t guided by the numbers, facts and figures of politicians or by companies interests? Where’s creative boredom, leisure, play, where’s the Kunst (art in German) as a motor for creative solutions?

It is in the air, in the steam around us! But we have to recognize the limitations as well as the possibilities. It’s an impossible mission to establish an extra letter into MINT – nobody would use something like MINKT or KMINT. Maybe it could become an interesting challenge to raise awareness for this steamy issue during the next months as a fablearn fellow…


Fig.: What’s this? Students are creating nativity sets for their homes in advent. To which subjects does it belong – religion, engineering, arts? We don’t care about that question in our makerspace at FASW: they make things, and nobody asked them to do so – just that is important! One thing is obvious: This is not MINT in the limited sense of most of the official MINT initiatives but it works.